Make My Heart Thine Altar

“Wherever [Divine Mother] places me, may I remember one thing: that this body, this mind and soul, are here only to do Her will. May I know no other happiness but the joy of serving Her and my beloved Guru.”

– Sri Daya Mata, “Fulfilling a Promise for the Guru’s YSS Work,” Self-Realization Magazine, 2017

When we love someone, there is a deep desire in our hearts to do something – anything – that will make that person happy. Nothing gives us more satisfaction than doing this. It is the same for the devotee with God. When we are in love with God, performing seva can be one of the most fulfilling experiences we can have in daily life. Noble intentions of seva give a little happiness, but actual seva is real joy. It adds a new dimension to the expression of our devotion to God and Guru by enabling us to offer not only our mind, but also our hands and feet in Their service. Seva, therefore, is a very powerful way to express our love for the omnipresent Beloved, and also a divine opportunity to see Him enshrined in everyone.

We want to share with you the joy of two such SRF volunteers who with great devotion are using their skills to create beautiful altars as their seva to God and Guru. These altars have been installed in SRF chapels and temples giving joy to all devotees who behold them.

Encinitas Temple altar

Brendan Matthews – a professional cabinet maker and a long-time devotee of our Guru – is currently busy assisting with the construction of an altar for the SRF Boston Center in collaboration with SRF monks, where it will be installed in time to honor the Self-Realization Fellowship Centennial in September, 2020. Prior to this, Brendan has worked with the SRF monks to help build several altars for SRF: a portable altar that is used every year at the SRF Convocations, the altar for the Encinitas Temple overflow J St. chapel, and the main altar of the SRF Encinitas Temple completed in 2019.

Encinitas Temple’s J St. Chapel altar

Constructing an altar is a highly skilled job that requires the help of many volunteers, as well as the SRF monks. Brendan explained that there are many steps involved before the beautiful idea of an altar can be materialized into an actual piece of art. These steps performed by volunteers and monks with various skills include design, engineering and mechanical drawing, milling, fabrication and assembly, “finish sanding,” application of paint, delivery and installation.

Each phase of the creation requires utmost care, patience and love. While some part of altar-making can be accomplished by computers and machinery, the finishing has to be done inch-by-inch manually. The niches where the pictures of the Gurus are placed require hours of sanding – all done by hand so as not to obliterate the details of the wood-carving. Even though the creation process is laborious and time-taking, Brendan considers it his privilege to be able to participate and work on this sacred project with the monks and sees the job as his seva to the Gurus from whom he has received so much.

“It’s a great joy to build Master’s altars,” says Brendan. “The opportunity to serve Master’s work using my professional skills is extremely rewarding. I know that these opportunities to serve are really Master’s ways of keeping us close. Those of us that serve regularly know that the Master is doing us a favor by letting us serve, and not the other way around. Master’s work is our work, and it is up to us to do our best. Sometimes the going gets tough, but it is the people who serve, who stay on.”

Paul Kleiner is another such devotee from Detroit, Michigan, who has rendered seva by building an altar for the SRF Detroit Meditation Group. 

Since Paul was in the cabinet making business, when the SRF group in his city moved to a permanent location, it was quite natural for the group to approach him with a request to build the altar for the new location.  The thorough professional that he is, Paul started the task by reading the Manual of Services given to all groups by SRF Center Department. It contains detailed guidance about how an SRF altar should be designed and arranged. He also browsed through tomes of Self-Realization magazines, seeking inspiration for the right design. Once he had a clear picture of what he wanted to build, he used his own workshop and resources to convert that idea-altar, which only he could see, into a real altar whose beauty is now there for all to behold and enjoy. The altar is adorned with a ceramic SRF emblem in gold and blue, and photos of the Gurus framed with special low-glare glass.

After this was accomplished, Paul was asked to build a podium to match with the altar. Using the same material with which he built the altar, a medium density fiberboard (MDF), Paul created a beautiful podium to go with the altar.

SRF Detroit Meditation Group altar

For him, this project was the honor of a lifetime. In his own words:  “When we serve the Master`s work in some way, often it is in some way that we have never worked before. For instance, one becomes a service reader, but has had no prior experience in public speaking. You have to stretch a little and grow into it.”  Paul feels in his heart that the Master has accepted the seva that he has given, and this gives him immense joy and fulfillment. 

Paul says, “Here I am, one of the people who can do this, with the skills and experience that I’ve been using for years to serve customers, and now the same tools and skills are given to serve God! I’ll never win a Nobel Prize or be knighted, but this is the honor of a lifetime.”

What a truly blessed experience it is to be able to build something for the Guru, and to enshrine our heart’s devotion in that creation! Whether we have the blessing of building physical altars for Guruji or not, we can all pray: “Make my soul Thy temple, make my heart Thine altar, make my love Thy home.”